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Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur

Factors affecting the property in 1990*
  • Housing
  • Impacts of tourism / visitor / recreation
  • Other Threats:

    Deterioration of the stones

UNESCO Extra-Budgetary Funds until 1990

With regard to the Sphinx, the Director-General granted $100,000 for safeguarding operations.

International Assistance: requests for the property until 1990
Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved : 0 USD
Missions to the property until 1990**

November 1988: expert mission

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 1990

This site, placed in 1979 on the World Heritage List under criteria (i), (iii) and (vi), was in 1988 the subject of the questionnaire sent in to provide updated information on cultural properties included in the List.

At the time, the answers concerned four elements: the Sphinx, the Cheops complex at Giza and the pyramids of Kephren and Mykerinos. A change in the legislation on protection has been reported. A law dating from 1983, consolidating the State's power for site management has been supplemented by provisions for the administrative centralization of the measures to be adopted. Furthermore, the law extends protection to buffer zones around archaeological sites which are delimited by decision of the authorities.

Over the past few years the pyramid area has been increasingly threatened, mainly due to the growing number of visitors and to uncontrolled development of the nearby village. In order to halt the resulting deterioration of the monuments, the Egyptian authorities drew up a development plan for the whole area. Since this plan gave rise to some controversy within Egypt, the Minister of Culture decided to establish an international advisory committee of experts to advise the Egyptian authorities on the development plan and he requested the Director-General to suggest the names of high-level experts from other countries who could take part in the committee together with Egyptian experts.

The advisory committee, composed of nine Egyptian experts and six non-Egyptian experts, met in Cairo from 14 to 18 May 1990 and studied the various aspects of the project, the main objective of which was to provide a better protection of the site by taking a number of rehabilitation measures and by totally enclosing the area.

The Committee gave its full support to the rehabilitation measures included in the project, namely:

a)  firm control of access to the area;

b)  removal of all modern buildings, platforms, walls, fences, etc.; removal of all macadam roads and replacement by stabilized sand;

c)  prohibition of any motorized vehicles except electric cars operated by the keeper of the site;

d)  control of the flow of visitors;

e)  creation of a fixed route for camels and horses; exclusion of all other animals: dogs, goats, etc.


and underlined the urgency of taking these measures.


As regards the means to enclose the area, the Committee recommended:

a)  on the eastern side near the Sphinx: that, after the necessary archaelogical excavations had been carried out, a light structure be installed, slightly below the level of the ground as it stands today, and including gently sloping stepped rows of seats for the sound and light show; the height of the new structure should not exceed six metres; a simple barrier should be erected on both sides of the above-mentioned structure to prevent any unwarranted intrusion or construction;

b)  on the northern side at the end of Pyramids Road: the entrance to be installed on this side to control the access of visitors should be a very light and simple structure which should not adversely affect the topography or present characteristics of the hill and not impair the view.


The main recommendation of the Committee was that a master plan of the whole area, including the buffer zone, be prepared on the basis of comprehensive studies. In transmitting the report of the advisory committee (which is available for consultation by the Committee) to the Egyptian authorities, the Director-General drew attention, in particular, to this recommendation and indicated that, since the site was protected under the World Heritage Convention, the Committee would certainly wish to have an opportunity to examine the master plan before it is implemented. He also conveyed to the Egyptian authorities the concern expressed by the Bureau at its meeting in June 1990 that construction work might endanger this site and drew attention to the fact that the Bureau had underlined the need to maintain its integrity.

With regard to the Sphinx, the Director-General granted $100,000 for safeguarding operations. An expert mission in November 1989 confirmed how urgent it was for action to be taken to safeguard the Sphinx, involving detailed studies enabling the installation of replacement stones of the same quality but of higher resistance to the action of destructive agents. He recommended that the Unesco allocation be used for the purchase of equipment for this purpose (a porisimeter and a compression testing machine) and for tests to be carried out on the stone of the nominated sculpture. This equipment has been provided.

Following the recommendations of the expert, a team from the Centre experimental français de recherches et d'études du bâtiment et des travaux publics (CEBTP) carried out in April 1990 an examination and a dynamic sounding in order to estimate the quality of the non-destructive stone and to assess its degree of homogeneity. The Centre concluded from its tests and analyses that the stone of the neck and head of the Sphinx was of good quality.

At the request of the Egyptian authorities, the Getty Conservation Institute is undertaking a research project to determine the factors that are contributing to the deterioration of the Sphinx. To this end, a solar-powered meteorological station has been installed on the back of the Sphinx to monitor environmental data from the site and surrounding area over the next 12-24 months. Information will be collected and analyzed on wind speed and direction, solar radiation, ambient and surface temperature, relative humidity and rainfall.

The results of this research project and of the mission undertaken by the CEBTP will enable the experts to diagnose precisely the state of the monument and to draw up a plan of action for its safeguarding.

The Secretariat will report orally to the Committee on any further developments concerning these projects.


Decisions adopted by the Committee in 1990
14 BUR IV.B.45
Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur (Egypt)

One member of the Bureau expressed concern regarding the project for the development of the Pyramids Plateau in Egypt, which included the building of a great wall between the archaeological area and a village settlement and the fitting out of an open-air 'Son et Lumiere' theatre. The Bureau shared the concern expressed that the construction works might endanger that unique site; it therefore asked the Secretary to send a letter to the Egyptian Minister of Culture drawing his attention to the need to preserve the integrity of that site, which had been included in the World Heritage List. The Bureau also recommended that the Committee keep itself informed of developments and take a firm stand against any project that might be detrimental to the site. Finally, the Bureau asked that all relevant reports received by the Secretariat should be brought to the attention of the Committee in December.

14 COM VIII.19-24
Monitoring of the State of Conservation of World Heritage Cultural Properties and Related Technical Problems

19. The Committee congratulated the Secretariat on the quality of its report on the monitoring of the state of conservation of world heritage cultural properties. It noted the various situations brought to its attention and was particularly pleased to see that the Director General of Unesco had informed Egyptian authorities of the concerns expressed by the Bureau at its fourteenth session in June 1990 regarding planned construction work in the pyramid fields from Giza to Dahshur, Egypt. In this connection, the Committee confirmed that it wished to examine, in due time, the master plan being developed for this protected area as a whole.

20. With reference to the archaeological site of Leptis Magna (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya), a member of the Committee noted that flooding of the Wadi Lebda, which sporadically affects the monuments of ancient Leptis, was a known phenomenon. Reports on this phenomenon by Italian specialists, especially the Centro Nazionale per le Ricerche (CNR) in Rome, should be consulted. In this regard, it would be advisable to contact Professor Antonino Di Vita, Director of the Italian School of Athens, a leading specialist on the Leptis site and its problems.

21. The Committee accepted the Secretariat's proposals concerning the continuation of the monitoring system. The mailing of a third series of questionnaires was thus postponed, and the Committee decided that the questionnaires already received would be analyzed. A sample of the worksheets prepared on the basis of the analysis will be submitted to the Bureau at its fifteenth session. The Committee also noted with satisfaction the Secretariat's initiative in starting a programme for the systematic diagnosis of World Heritage cultural sites. Because a UNDP project is already under way in Latin America and the Caribbean, the experiment will be launched in this region.

22. With reference to this same region, a Committee member reported that the UNDP-Unesco Project Coordinator will organize practical training in monitoring in 1991. This is an excellent initiative to be cited as an example, especially for ICCROM, which could plan similar training in the coming years.

23. The Committee carefully examined the document produced by ICOMOS as a contribution to the monitoring of world heritage cultural properties. The Committee focused primarily on the Monastery of the Hieronymites and the Tower of Belem, a world heritage site where the construction of a building had begun in the area protected under the Convention. The Secretariat informed the Committee that, having been alerted by various sources, it had immediately brought this matter to the attention of the Portuguese authorities. Deeply concerned about the situation described, the Committee sent a cable to the Portuguese authorities, expressing its fear that the project in question would cause irreparable damage to the world heritage value of the site and offering to organize an expert mission to evaluate the impact of the project.

24. Particularly concerned about the proliferation of such projects, the Committee deemed it advisable to include a paragraph on this topic in the Operational Guidelines encouraging States Parties to increase their vigilance. The following wording was thus adopted for inclusion in the Operational Guidelines: "The World Heritage Committee invites the States Parties to the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage to inform the Committee, through the Unesco Secretariat, of their intention to undertake or to authorize in an area protected under the Convention major restorations or new constructions which may affect the World Heritage value of the property. Notice should be given as soon as possible (for instance, before drafting basic documents for specific projects) and before making any decisions that would be difficult to reverse, so that the Committee may assist in seeking appropriate solutions to ensure that the world heritage value of the site is fully preserved."

No draft Decision

Report year: 1990
Date of Inscription: 1979
Category: Cultural
Criteria: (i)(iii)(vi)
Documents examined by the Committee
arrow_circle_right 14COM (1990)

* : The threats indicated are listed in alphabetical order; their order does not constitute a classification according to the importance of their impact on the property.
Furthermore, they are presented irrespective of the type of threat faced by the property, i.e. with specific and proven imminent danger (“ascertained danger”) or with threats which could have deleterious effects on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (“potential danger”).

** : All mission reports are not always available electronically.